The bridges of Duluth from a Sailing Perspective

When visiting Minnesota, you might often hear ” Lets go up to the North Shore”   You would be in for a treat- taking in Duluth,  Canal Park, Two Harbors and possibly Gooseberry Falls or the Lighthouse.  Its a quick 3 hour drive up 35W from Minneapolis- and what a beautiful destination.

While the north shore drive is popular destination,  today we’re talking about a variation- We’ll call it the North Shore Sail!   You won’t hear this invitation as often–” Lets sail along  Lake Superiors North Shore”  or even “Let me show  you the bridges of Duluth“.

After a night in Knife River, Aquila motored back out onto Lake Superior, and prepared to the last 17 miles to Duluth.   We met our goal of sailing across the length of Lake Superior!

Aerial Lift bridge 2012 sept sailing 322

In the past, we’ve visited Canal Park and the Lift Bridge, and walked along the pier taking photos while watching the boats pass through.   Today, while boating along the canal, it wasn’t clear  who took more pictures- the tourists along the canal or us taking pictures of them!

Tourists on the canal walkway

The evening prior to arrival, we read the notes in our cruising guides.  It mentioned to be aware of the current in the canal.  Dutifully Colleen  radioed ahead- asking about conditions as this was our first time through the lift bridge.    We were assured conditions were stable, and we would have a chance to turn around if need be.  The sails were dropped in preparation of going under the aerial lift bridge. As Aquila motored up to the bridge, we blew the horn 3 times and waited for the bridge master to raise the bridge.

(Only later did we realize it raises on the half hour, so it was a coincidence that it seemed to lift in response to our blasts on the horn)   Hope we didn’t alarm the tourists on the break wall….2012 sept sailing 316

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Bay Front park Duluth MN

Other than the usual jitters of concern “will our mast clear under the bridge??”, we relaxed and enjoyed the experience.    2012 sept sailing 314 2012 sept sailing 334

The canal entrance is well marked on each side, and is plenty wide for our sailboat as it is regularly used by the big Lakers.  There  is great web cam of the Duluth Harbor , I’ll try to attach a link.

I did some research on the Duluth Port Authority sight to share some background of the Duluth port.  “The Duluth port  is the farthest-inland freshwater seaport and one of the leading bulk cargo ports in all of North America. By far, the largest and busiest on the Great Lakes, the Port of Duluth-Superior handles an average of 40 million short tons of cargo and nearly 1,000 vessel visits each year…connecting the heartland of the U.S. and Canada to the rest of the world.

There are 49 miles of waterfront in this harbor.  Primarily a natural resources port, docks in the “twin ports” of Duluth, Minn. and Superior, Wis., handle a diversified commodities base ranging from coal, iron ore, grain, and limestone to cement, salt, wood pulp, steel coil, wind turbine components, and other heavy lift/dimensional equipment.

Two distinct types of ships visit the Port on a regular basis. “Lakers” are bulk carriers specially built to ply the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway. In Duluth-Superior, Lakers constitute over 90 percent of vessel traffic. The largest U.S. lakers are over 1,000 feet long, 105 feet wide and of 56 feet (17m) hull depth, with a carrying capacity of nearly 70,000 short tons. Too large to fit through locks at the Welland Canal which bypasses Niagara Falls, these lakers” spend their working lives hauling bulk commodities like iron ore, coal, and stone between ports on four of the five Great Lakes.”

The highlight of the day is sailing under the Arial Lift Bridge; sailing under a bridge is always a mix of anticipation and exhilaration- always crossing your fingers that the 50 ft mast will clear!    The bridges of Duluth will not disappoint.

The view of Duluth from the water is quite amazing.  If you have visited Duluth, you may have seen the tour boats, and wondered what the appeal might be as the area is pretty industrial.   We found the appeal of the beautiful fall colors from the water line up to the skyview drive is stunning.   The industry along the waterway between the canal , Barkers Island and up into the mouth of the river offers  chance to get up close and personal with the lakers , tugboats, fishing boats ,loading equipment and dredgers that share the waterway.

Once into the canal park area, we passed Grandma’s restaurant and the Duluth Bayfront park- a unique concert venue makes stunning lake side landmark.

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Tugboats Duluth Canal Park

Our destination is Spirit Lake Marina, located 6 miles up the St Louis River.

Not only do we get to sail under the famous Ariel Lift Bridge in Duluth, but also under the High Bridge, the Bong Bridge and last but not least the Grassy Point Train Swing Bridge.    Each of these bridges has a story of its own and might require a separate post.   Here is an over view of our trip up the river.

The Blatnik Bridge is most often referred to as the “High Bridge”, making the two major bridges connecting Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin the “Bong Bridge” and the “High Bridge.”

From Wikepedia: The John A. Blatnik Bridge is the bridge that carries  Interstate 535  and US 53 over the Saint Louis Bay , between Duluth and Superior Wisconsin. The bridge is 7,975 feet  long and rises up nearly 120 feet  above the water to accommodate the shipping channel. the Ships pass under it to get to the ore docks and graineries.. It was dedicated on December 2, 1961, but was renamed for Congressman  John Blatnik  on September 24, 1971, to commemorate Blatnik’s role in making the bridge a reality. The Blatnik Bridge replaced a swinging toll bridge around the same location that carried both automobile and rail traffic.

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High Bridge St Louis River Duluth, Connecting Duluth and Superior WI

The High Bridge was undergoing some construction when sailed under it this summer. To the right you in the photo, you get a glimpse of the old interstate bridge which is now a fishing pier. it is at water level and looks tiny next to the high bridge! 2012 sept sailing 323

After following the the channel marked by the buoys, we slowly motored on to the next bridge, the Bong Bridge.

(Wikepedia sources):   The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, also known as the Bong Bridge, connects  Duluth with Superior WI via US Hwy 2. Opened on October 25, 1985, it is roughly 11,800 feet  long. About 8,300 feet of that length is over water. It crosses over the  Saint Louis Bay that drains into Lake Superior.  The bridge’s namesake, Richard Ira Bong,  was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

000 sailing sort 114

Just beyond the  Bong Bridge, we could glimpse the Grassy Point Swing Bridge.   In the distance I heard a train whistle, and caught a glimpse of it passing along the shore. We joked that train might be on the same track we were heading for, but thought nothing of it.2012 sept sailing 364

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Aquila Sailing; waiting for train to cross the Grassy Point Swing Bridge

As we approached the bridge, we blew the fog horn to alert the bridge master and waited for the bridge to open.    Nothing opened….    Colleen got on the radio to confirm that we were following the procedure and was kindly told that the bridge would open once the train had passed through.   Just then we noticed the afore mentioned train was not going along the shore, it was passing right in front of us.   Felt like a novice!

The Bridge master monitors the swing from the building in the center of the bridge.

Grassy Point Swing Bridge Duluth

Grassy Point Swing Bridge Duluth

I wonder how many trains pass each day.  And also wondered how many sailboats or other boats pass this far up the river.    We motored in place until the train passed through and was on land on the Superior WI side of the river.  At this point the bridge gently began to swing open; just to allow out 36ft sailboat to pass through to continue our 6 mile trip up the river.

Swing Bridge of Duluth

The Grassy Point Railroad Bridge was built in 1912.


For Landlubbers, there is a Grassy Point Trail with a look out and hiking trail accessible from Leisure street.  It is a wetland area that has been cleaned up of the pulp mill waste and pollution caused by earlier century industry.

I believe the train traffic is so seldom that the bridge is often left open; and just closed when train is moving across from the Duluth to Superior train yards.   Small fishing boats are able to motor under the bridge.    The water gets shallow as you head up the river- be sure to stay with in the shipping channel marked by the red and green bouys!

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Train crossing the Grassy Point Swing Bridge in Duluth MN, on the St Louis River

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Waiting for the train to cross the swing bridge, so our sailboat can pass thru on the St Louis River, Duluth MN

Open Swing Bridge

Sailboat Motoring past the Grassy Point Swing Bridge with the Bong Bridge in the background. Located in Duluth, on the St Louis River.

Grassy Point Swing Bridge

The Grassy Point Swing Bridge is beginning to swing open.
Duluth, MN Bridges on the St Louis River

The Grassy Point Swing Bridge opened for our sailboat to pass through.

After passing through the swing bridge our journey continued up the river toward the Spirit lake Marina. Leaving the bridges behind us until our return trip.


About mnsailors

Sailing Lake Superior out of Bayfield WI. Sailing from Racine WI to Bayfield in 2012
This entry was posted in Bridges, Lake Superior Sailing, Sailing, Sailing Duluth and Spirit Lake Marina and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The bridges of Duluth from a Sailing Perspective

  1. phillip says:

    Sailing up the North Shore sounds like a blast!

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